The Internet has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against global poverty and in boosting prosperity. Along with mobile phones and advanced digital technologies, the Internet is lowering transaction costs, creating new economic opportunities, and improving accountability. It is fair conjecture that this is an area where much scope remains for new and imaginative applications and large gains.
The benefits of the Internet are, however, not automatic, and our understanding of its impact on economic development remains incomplete—based on anecdotes more than on solid analysis. This hinders the design of effective policies that can help countries take full advantage of new information and communication technologies (ICTs). There is much at stake, because Internet technologies enable transformational changes—much like the way steam engines, electricity and automobiles triggered the previous industrial revolutions. The success or failure in adopting such technologies may well determine whether low income countries catch up with wealthier ones or fall further behind. Relatedly, the internet may also be the engine that hastens social and cultural change in unprecedented ways, with implications for economic development.
The World Development Report 2016 on The Internet and Development will assemble the best available evidence on the Internet’s potential impact on economic growth, on equity, and on the efficiency of public service provision. The report will analyze what factors have allowed some governments, firms and households to benefit from the Internet, and identify the barriers that limit gains elsewhere. There are striking examples from around the world. China’s Alibaba links Chinese companies to world markets. India’s national digital identification program, Aadhaar, is meant to help millions access services previously out of reach. And Kenya’s M-Pesa system facilitates banking and remittance transfers to remote places. There are many such successful examples in low and middle income countries, and a lot to be gained by studying these and other examples and eliciting lessons for all countries. This will yield insights for policy reforms within the ICT sectors and in complementary sectors both nationally and internationally. This World Development Report should better position the World Bank Group—across all global practices—as a leader in the application of the Internet to solve the world’s most pressing development challenges.
World Development Report 2016 will be co-directed by Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann. Deepak Mishra, Lead Economist in the East Asia Pacific PREM Department, is an Indian national with a track record in operations and research in areas spanning macroeconomics, fiscal management and trade and competitiveness. Uwe Deichmann, Senior Environmental Specialist in the Development Research Group’s Environment and Energy Team, is a German national with a research record in infrastructure policy issues and a core team member of the World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography.